Deep into that darkness peering: an all-black chicken (with all-black meat)

August 26, 2015 • 12:00 pm

by Grania

Boing Boing ran an article a couple of weeks ago on the Ayam Cemani chicken, mostly because it is all black but also because it makes for a really expensive dish if you want to eat one. Chicks retail at $199 each and Wikipedia observes that an individual bird can go for $2500.

Here’s a hen:

Credit: Jeffrey Pamungkas, Wikipedia

And the cockerel:

Credit: Kangwira, Wikipedia

Although the eggs are white, the flesh of the bird is completely black due to a dominant allele that causes hyperpigmentation called Fibromelanosis. The genetic basis of fibromelanosis has actually been studied at Uppsala University, and they note:

[A]ll fibromelanotic breeds carried the exact same very unusual mutation….This is a nice example of how humans have distributed a single novel mutation with an interesting effect when they developed breeds of domestic animals around the world.

It appears that they originated in Java, Indonesia and have spread through Europe where there are now several varieties.

If you’re thinking of getting your own hyperpigmented chickens (there’s a farm that sells them here), be warned they are notoriously bad at hatching their own broods. It seems like a lot of money for having an Addams Family-style Gallus gallus domesticus running around in your yard, but you can eat the eggs and they will look like normal hen’s eggs and not like Nibbler-esque leavings of Dark Matter.


If you do decide to eat one at least you will be able to say to your friends tastes like chicken and get a weak grin out of it.


[JAC: I wonder how many people wouldn’t even be able to eat a black drumstick because of its off-putting appearance.]


25 thoughts on “Deep into that darkness peering: an all-black chicken (with all-black meat)

  1. Actually sound delish. Love dark meat, but this doesn’t seem to be dark for the same reason that chicken legs ( and all of duck) are- because muscles.

  2. When I was living in Flushing one of the people I was living with brought back a black chicken from one of the wet markets. It was kind of interesting to see, and perhaps might have been more appetizing to me in a cooked state. The lady who bought it told me about its TCM property of being good for women (she gave no specifics as to how or why). It probably tasted just like chicken.

  3. Don’t tell Greenpeace! There’ll be a campaign about the dangers of GM. Or perhaps the meat being black saved us – that would’ve been racist! 🙂

    1. Sorry, but from TFA I didn’t see any implication that this is a GM product. A dominant allele can arise perfectly naturally, and would then be able to be selected and spread by conventional breeding. They wouldn’t even need to go through the palaver of inbreeding lines which is necessary for recessive genes.
      And it’s not like it’s hard to tell which 3/4 of each generation are carrying the mutation. This might even make a school-friendly variant on Mendel’s peas.
      [Waits for creationists and god-squaddies to object to clear, school-friendly demonstrations of genetics. It won’t take long.]

  4. This somehow reminds me of an article I read
    long ago, that some huge chain (KFC?) had been looking into ways of increasing the proportion of white to dark meat in chicken breading because most people liked white meat.

    I was shocked. Most people like white meat?
    That was insane to me. With poultry you have two choices – the meat that is juicy and flavorful(dark), or the type that is most likely to be dry and bland. I came from a family that always fought over the dark meat, the white being the loser’s portion.
    But over time I’ve learned that even more people prefer white meat. This, to me, is a mystery on par with anything Stephen Hawking has been wasting his time on.

    But there it is…

  5. My wife tells me that soup made from a black chicken is best for new mothers following childbirth. They are often seen in Asian markets. They taste just fine.

  6. I’ve had black chicken at some Chinese restaurant and I certainly didn’t pay anything related to the prices mentioned. I think the more common type are Silkies, which are also fibromelanistic.

  7. Yeah, have ’em, eaten ’em. They taste just fine, perhaps slightly sweeter than non-black meat.

    The meat and all organs, except lungs are dark also.

    The store dark chickens are often of the silkie breed although there is currently some interest in expanding the black meat market using various dark meat chickens being crossed to faster growing or just meatier breeds(cemanis and most black meat breeds are rather light weight)

    There actually are several different dark meat breeds from different countries- mostly tropical areas although there is a Swedish black meat breed- Svart honas.

    1. By the way to be clear, the meat and organs are dark due to melanin pigments, not the same thing as leg/wing ‘dark meat’. So yes, to the comment above, the black breast meat is still “white meat”.

  8. I wouldn’t have any trouble eating one, but they do have the same color as (prized) oak that’s been under water for many years.

  9. I didn’t know such a thing existed, though I am familiar with a few Chinese dishes made with black chicken – however, the chicken is a normal chicken marinated in a certain way after death and the process turns the chicken black. Customary belief of course is that the black bird cures all sorts of things. Although I’ve enjoyed the variety of recipes I’ve had with such chickens, I can say the coloring is largely a gimmick – it still tastes like chicken!

  10. “[JAC: I wonder how many people wouldn’t even be able to eat a black drumstick because of its off-putting appearance.]”

    People drink coke and Pepsi all the time, it’s pitch black. And we have a reflex(conditioned?) not to drink off color water in case it is dirty.

    1. It isn’t black, it’s dark brown.

      And we drink opaquely off-colour water (milk), and all manner of brown/yellow fluids – whisky, rum, beer, ginger beer. And all other colours of the rainbow too.

      Can you tell beer from pee by its colour? because I can’t. (Any cynic says I probably can’t tell from the taste either, they die!)

      So that reflex is subject to many extraneous factors.

      Black chicken, OTOH, looks uniquely horrid to me.


        1. Well there are shades of black 😉

          In fact Coke can look almost black in some lighting conditions.

          And that black chicken looks blue in some areas.


  11. Oh, btw, nice à propos allusion to Poe’s The Raven in the title to this post. I just noticed as I was cruising by wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

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